Re: PC words and tech writing

Subject: Re: PC words and tech writing
From: "Laura J. Lockhart" <LLOCKHART -at- ABIM -dot- ORG>
Date: Mon, 14 Dec 1998 11:06:22 -0500

Mike Stockman wrote:

On 12/11/98 11:51 AM, Gutierrez, Diane (Diane -dot- Gutierrez -at- WESTGROUP -dot- COM)

>I have long wondered about this: politically correct words may not match
>words in current medical or scientific usage. Is the trend changing in this
>area also, despite some diehard authors insisting on the old terminology?

I don't think the question is relevant, except in that it may create a
heated thread about political correctness. If you are writing for the
scientific community, use the current, standard language for the
audience. If you are writing for a lay audience, use the current,
standard language for the audience. (See the trend?)

Wow, that was a short thread...

Though I see Mike's point, this is sometimes easier said than done. In my case, our internist licensing exams must reference racial designations without offending the reader... it's not always easy to keep pace with what the current "PC" term is. Especially (I'm a little embarrassed to admit) since all of our editors and copy editors are WASPs (okay, there is one Catholic in there). The race designation is crucial to some exam questions because it may tip off certain underlying conditions that are more prevalent in certain ancestral backgrounds.

Similarly, we sometimes need to reference sexual orientation if it is relevant to the subject matter (particularly our Infectious Disease exams)... in that case, we try to say something like "he has not had any homosexual relations" instead of describing the patient as "a homosexual male." Whenever I edit AIDS-related questions that refer to sexual orientation, I try to omit the reference if it is no longer relevant to the person's condition (for example, someone diagnosed several years ago)... it's my weak attempt to try to prevent the perpetuation of stereotypes.

As for "standard" language for the scientific community for this particular matter, I'm not convinced there is any... if there was, why do some of our doctors write questions referring to "Caucasians" and "African-Americans," while others use simply "blacks" and "whites"?

We've ended up with this rule of thumb:
use "white" for a white American;
use "African-American" for black Americans;
use "Hispanic American" for Americans of Puerto Rican, Central American, or South American descent;
use "Asian American" for Americans of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Philippine, Korean, or Vietnamese descent

for persons living in America but were not born here, follow the example: "38-year-old woman from Mexico who emigrated to the United States six months ago..."
for anyone else: "29-year-old man from Zaire"

This system may not be wholly accurate (and it's occasionally cumbersome), but so far it has served its purpose... and so far, we haven't received any complaints.

If you have any thoughts on how we could improve our system, please respond off-list.

Laura Lockhart
American Board of Internal Medicine

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